Space, the only leadership frontier?


March 10th, 2015

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space with hands low resThese days I know that how I relate to space within and beyond my body affects how I lead. In my connections through space lie the choices about how I lead and follow, whether this is the space between my neurons or between my colleagues! Space is the frontier through which leading and following flows, I believe. But when we feel we must lead, we can get lost in our heads, barely aware of our body let alone the space around us.

Our bodies know about space, but we can block that knowing. When driving, what do we pay attention to? Other cars, yes, but the spaces in between too. In music, what does the trained musician attend to? The notes partly, but also the space between them. Walking down a busy street focusing on the spaces amongst the crowd is a lot easier than looking at the people ‘in the way’. Then there’s the leader who kills the mood by dumping their irritation or impatience in the space, unaware. Losing a sense of space can lose a leader followers in a flash of a teleport beam.

When I began embodiment work I struggled with ‘connecting to the space’. Perhaps, I thought, because I wasn’t a martial artist; and anyway, how would it help me? These days I relate to the space inside and around me more consciously, and it helps. Here’s how.

Firstly, over 99% of the space that an atom occupies is not solid, ditto the whole material world. Teleports and being beamed places could take hold here, but seriously, the fact that ‘stuff’ is like this shapes how I view leadership. When I sense material things as spacious, leading is an open possibility for me rather than lonely, heavy effort. It connects me with my power and agency and equally the need to negotiate my ideas with whoever I want following and leading me.

Conversely, space is not empty, not least because everything is transmitted through it: sound, light, energy, gesture. This too is relevant to my leading – it reminds me that what I do and how I am transmits into space and affects how others experience me and how they feel. For good or ill, we all constantly have an impact, but I meet many leaders who are unaware of this to their cost.

A third thing about space is particularly well known to athletes and martial artists. By changing how I experience space, I can use it as a resource. These days I can catch what feels like the energy of space and be carried by it. If I stand up attentive to how my body can tip off the chair up into the space the effort is tiny. Am I actually connecting with anything material in the space, or just retraining my body? Or both? Whatever, the result is me being a more resourceful leader, particularly in adversity.

So, do you get it? To be honest, you might not without a felt experience. Only having done so have I realised that embodiment training is important work many leaders should undertake. So if you have an intuitive “hmmm, there’s something in this” feeling, as I did, I urge you to find out more. And if you’ve done embodiment work, please post your favourite tips here.


Our Leading with Presence whitepaper is available to download and offers some practical tips to improve your leadership presence.  Tom Kenward is Programme Director for Roffey Park’s Leading with Presence course where participants explore a variety of approaches to enhance your presence and effectiveness as a leader.  These will include mindfulness, gestalt, somatics and equine assisted learning.